By Lonnie L. Jackson, Ph.D.
Have you watched an episode of Shark Tank on television or something similar and wondered how the person thought of that particular idea? Or wondered why you didn’t think of that idea?
Often, it seems to make a lot of sense once the idea is explained or pitched to investors.
Most of the time, the idea for a product or service was generated by a need to solve some particular problem or create an opportunity. Many entrepreneurial ventures are started from this very spot – recognizing a need to solve a problem and/or create an opportunity.
I caught the entrepreneurial “bug” as a teenager after working part-time for several years at a local hardware store in my hometown. I knew at some point in my life I would own a business. I chose business as my field of study while an undergraduate at Henderson State University. At that time, a student could enroll in a Small Business Management class and have the opportunity to counsel a small business owner by offering advice on a variety of business subjects. The class served to reinforce what I felt I already knew about my desire to start a company at some point in my career. This may not be true of most entrepreneurs – they may have exercised creativity and innovation from a need within their current job or noticed an opportunity to improve or create a better “mouse trap” in a particular industry.
My wife and I started and have continued to operate a business for approximately 27 years. Although we did not necessarily create or invent a better “mouse trap,” we did believe we could build an innovative company to survive in the long run within our particular industry.
In the current environment of business, entrepreneurial thinking seems to be particularly important to businesses in order to remain competitive. At Henderson State University, where I have been employed over the last 19 years and currently serve on the faculty in the School of Business, we want to provide as many opportunities as possible to allow our students the chance to innovate and create a new or different product or service. Then we give them an opportunity to pitch that idea to investors or judges as part of a competition.
Part of my duties as a member of the entrepreneurship faculty includes managing a local Pitch Competition and Business Plan Competition for our students. Both of these competitions serve our students very well. The students are exposed to public speaking numerous times, as well as being immersed in creativity and innovation as they work in teams to identify a potential business opportunity and create a pitch, along with a business plan. This work culminates in a Business Battle of the Ravine where our teams compete against teams from Ouachita Baptist University for cash prizes. Our teams also move on to compete in the Arkansas Governor’s Cup Collegiate Business Plan Competition held each year in Little Rock.
The Arkansas Governor’s Cup is an excellent opportunity for college students to gain essential skills relating to entrepreneurship as well as a chance to make business connections and network with business professionals. At this stage, students refine their business idea along with writing and presentation skills as they pitch their business opportunity to a panel of judges. Student teams have an opportunity to win $25,000 as the top prize in the competition. The top three places win money and teams also have a chance to earn money in an elevator pitch competition as part of the Arkansas Governor’s Cup.
Whether a person recognizes an internal drive to be an entrepreneur early, participates on a team of entrepreneurial thinkers as part of a college experience, or discovers an entrepreneurial drive as part of a need to create and innovate, these entrepreneurial thinkers are needed across industries as companies compete to survive and grow. Creation and innovation seem to be at the top of the list of needs within companies today so providing the opportunity to develop and enhance those skills while students at our colleges and universities are critical. This can only be a positive step in the development process for students as they prepare themselves for a workforce that is continually changing and adapting as companies demand employees who are innovative, creative, entrepreneurial thinkers.
Lonnie L. Jackson, Ph.D., is an associate professor of management at Henderson State University.